Thursday, April 19, 2007

Inside the Nightmare

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There is an extraordinary article in the Washington Post about the carnage at Virginia Tech. I have to preface this by saying that, as a blogger, I read a lot of articles that upset me, sometimes terribly. Sometimes I get sick to my stomach; sometimes I feel like I want to cry. But very few things that I read make me actually cry. This article did.

This is a long article, describing the events at VT in minute detail: where people were when it happened, what they saw and heard, what they didn't see and hear, how it felt, how they survived -- those who did. And one of the thoughts that came to me as I read it, was how this article is the retort to so many of the stupid, ignorant, cruel, and self-serving conclusions that have been served up to us in the last two days -- most if not all of them, sad to say, from the right.

Making a causal connection between abortion and the murders at VT (a reader comment at a far-right blog about yesterday's SCOTUS ruling upholding a ban on late-term abortions):

"I wonder how much our modern culture, which places so much lower a value on human life than in former times, has generated the disconnect that creates our mass murderers such as Mr. Cho."

The WaPo [my emphasis]:

The malevolent force that emerged from Suite 2121 that morning set in motion a day of enormous tragedy. There was one murderous villain on the Blacksburg stage with all the familiar characteristics: lonely, angry, mentally unstable, desperate, uncommunicative. But with the world watching, scores of other people were drawn into the unfolding drama, from a brave old Holocaust survivor who tried valiantly to save his students and died in the trying, to the kid in German class who became an eloquent voice of the survivors, to the quick-thinking student in computer class who placed a heavy table to block the doorway just in time, to the young man in mechanical engineering who made it through by pretending that he was dead.

In other words, this was someone who was alienated and isolated from society, someone who didn't "fit in," someone who was odd, weird, strange, different. This was also someone who was mentally ill and emotionally unstable -- someone who desperately needed professional help. But there are few mechanisms in our society to recognize, much less help, someone like this. After the shootings, Barack Obama made a public response in which he put the violence that occurred on the VT campus in the larger context of many other forms of violence in our society, not all of which fit the conventional definition of violence. Right-wing bloggers sneered at Obama's words. And that's the point. Cho Seung-Hui was not an embryo or a fetus. He was a profoundly, unspeakably troubled individual who had not been an embryo or fetus for quite a few years. But the violence that consumed his heart and mind is of no interest to us (as a society) until it breaks out in a way that affects us all.

This is about policies that don't allow students to defend themselves; if VT permitted everyone to carry guns on campus, this tragedy would not have occurred, or would have been much less deadly.

No: This is about guns being too easily available, not the reverse:

There were still so many unanswered questions. Why did Cho go to West Ambler Johnston? Why did he choose Norris Hall for his rampage? Whom was he looking for? What did he do between the two incidents? How did he move around the campus unnoticed? Police questions, questions of detail. They went to work on some of the little stuff, tracing Cho's movements. They found out that on Feb. 9 he had stepped into a pawnshop directly across the street from the Tech campus, right on Main Street, JND Pawn Brokers, to make the first purchase of the guns he would use later. It was a Walther .22-caliber pistol, relatively inexpensive, commonly used for target shooting. From then until days before the shooting, he traveled to nearby stores to buy ammunition. Some at the Wal-Mart Supercenter, some at Dick's Sporting Goods over in Christianburg. On March 16, exactly a month before his killing rampage, he went to Roanoke Firearms, a full-service gun dealership with more than 350 guns on display. He showed his driver's license, a checkbook with a matching address and an immigration card. A surveillance camera captured him making the $571 purchase of a Glock 19 and a box of 50 cartridges.

Days later, a larger clue would come from NBC News and Cho himself. At 9:01 Monday morning, before going to Norris Hall, Cho sent an Express Mail package to NBC in New York that included photographs, video and a note including these chilling words: "You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today."

Cho did not steal his weapons and ammunition. He did not obtain them illegally. He got them within shouting distance of the VT campus. If he had not been able to do what the WaPo article so devastatingly reports that he did, 32 young men and women would be alive today.

Where were all the real men while this was going on? What happened to the spirit of self-defense? Why didn't any of these cowardly students rush the gunman, or try to defend or save their classmates?

The WaPo:

The first wave of wounded patients was carried into Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg shortly after 10 a.m. -- bloodied, mangled, some on the verge of death. Davis B. Stoeckle, a general surgeon, was on call that morning and worked the emergency room from beginning to end with a colleague, Holly Wheeling. They had been told to brace for the extraordinary numbers of victims and levels of trauma that they would face. They established a triage to focus first on the most gravely wounded.

One after another, the students came in.

Gunshot to the leg.

Bullet hole in the stomach.

Gunshot through the liver, part of a kidney and colon.

As accustomed as he was to dealing with morbidity, Stoeckle felt himself thinking the scene was unreal. He had never encountered such a volume of patients, more gunshot victims in a few hours than the hospital had treated in nearly five years. As they worked, Stoeckle and Wheeling heard stories of bravery from the wounded: students pushing others into closets to protect them from the barrage of bullets and helping one another with makeshift tourniquets and bandages. In one case, Stoeckle concluded that a student's quick medical action might have saved his own life. Bleeding significantly from his right leg, this student found an electrical cord in a classroom and wrapped it tightly around his wound, which kept him from bleeding to death until the rescue squad arrived and placed a tourniquet above the bleeding artery.

I hope that every heartless Wild West, armchair macho warrior, hero-at-a-distance, cowboy gunslinging lunatic out there reads this and is flooded with shame and remorse at the snap judgments they've made about why this nightmare happened, and the decisions they would have made had they been inside that nightmare instead of safe at home or in their corner offices tapping away at their keyboards. Needless to say, of course, I won't hold my breath.

Cross-posted at Shakesville.

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